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1938: Hosting Kindertransport refugees

Arrival of Kindertransport refugees in London in 1939

Correspondence in the public domain shows Cuckfield hosted brothers Heinz and Peter Behrent, who were German-Jewish refugees rescued as part of the Kindertransport mission between 1938 and 1939 and were given refuge at Macaulay House School in Cuckfield, which is now Ockenden Manor Hotel.

The Kinder transport system was set up between December 1938 and September 1939 and succeeded in rescuing 10,000 young people from Nazi occupied Europe and bringing them to the UK. The mostly Jewish children under the age of 17 came mainly from Germany, Poland, Austria and Czechoslovakia and all travelled without their parents.

One of the most poignant memorials in London at Liverpool Street Station showing the Kinder transport refugees arriving in London

A film based on the true story of British humanitarian Sir Nicholas Winton has gone on release called ‘One Life’  stars include Sir Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce and Helena Bonham Carter.

Winterton was 29 and working as a stockbroker visited Czechoslovakia in 1938, just weeks after the Munich Agreement was agreed, he encounters families in Prague who had fled the rise of the Nazis in Germany and Austria. They are living in poor living conditions, with little or no shelter or food and in fear of the invasion of the Nazis. He managed to rescue 669 children, most of them Jewish, from the Holocaust.

Heinz and Peter were initially cared for at Macaulay House School in Cuckfield and later moved to Folkestone and Wales (Llanvair, Newport, Cardiff and Cleddon Hall). During the later parts of the war Heinz was stationed with the army in Colchester. Heinz and Peter were related to Gerda Sainer and Eve Liebert, who had previously emigrated to the UK.

Parallels with Cuckfield hosting the Huguenots

This reminds us of the hosting of other refugees from Europe - the Huguenots - who were welcomed into Cuckfield on two occasions. The Huguenots were French Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries who followed the teachings of theologian John Calvin.

There is evidence even today of their presence. The Old Barber Shop and the neighburing residential property date from the 15th century and altered in the 18th century. It was originally one building, amalgamated with The Sanctuary (to the north). Anecdotal evidence suggests that Huguenots fleeing religious repression in France circa 1572 inhabited the building and this has some resonance with the name The Sanctuary.

The Huguenots were again being repressed in 1789 to 1815 and it is also recorded that Seigneur Baron de Villiers a nobleman of the County of Eu in Normandy sought refuge in the same house following the execution of Louis XVI on 21 January 1793.

One first floor front room has the remains of black painted lettering, a quotation from Psalm 139, 2nd half of C16:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?

Or where shall I flee from your presence? 

If I ascend to heaven, you are there!

The KinderTransport Cuckfield correspondence is held at University of Sussex Special Collections:

We previously published an item on Cuckfield Connections about Macaulay House School (now Ockenden Manor).

Photograph: The children of Polish Jews from the region between Germany and Poland on their arrival in London on the 'Warsaw'. Photographed February 1939. Wikimedia public domain image.

Photograph: The memorials in at Liverpool Street Station depicting the Kinder transport refugees arriving in London. Wikimedia public domain image.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.

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